The following is a blog post from Congressman Adam Smith:

For all the commentary and analysis of the ongoing government shutdown—its causes and consequences, the partisan wrangling over who is “winning,” whose fault it is, how dysfunctional our government has become and on and on and on—rarely have I seen the basic clear explanation for why it happened in the first place.  And that reason is simple to understand, critical to figuring how we get out of this mess, and, as importantly, how to prevent us from falling back into this problem time and time again going forward.

Put simply, the House Republican Majority has two large policy priorities (and a dozen or so others depending on which Republican Member of Congress is putting together the list) that they cannot get passed by the Senate or signed by the President.  The reason for this reality is equally simple.  The Democrats who control the Senate, and President Obama, oppose strongly those Republican policy priorities.

And that is how our system works—checks and balances, how a bill becomes a law—you need passage in the House and the Senate and a signature from the President.  The House Republicans cannot get their priorities through the normal process so to force the Senate and the President to pass policy they do not support into law, they are trying to leverage the legal requirement that Congress raise our debt ceiling to keep borrowing money, and pass some kind of appropriations bills once the fiscal year runs out on October 1st to keep funding the government.

This will not work.  Ever.  Because the two things the Republicans want Democrats will not under any circumstances support.

First, Republicans want to repeal or at least mortally wound the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.  The President has made it clear he will not do that.  The shame of it is everybody, including the President believes that changes could be made to the health care law to make it work better.  But this is not what Republicans want.  They want to destroy the law, not make it work more effectively.

The second issue is more complicated.  Republicans are concerned about the deficit and the size of our nation’s debt.  This is a legitimate concern, but again, just like with Obamacare, the Republicans have a very specific way of dealing with the deficit that Democrats will not support.

The best way to deal with the deficit is to get our economy moving again.  Grow it from the middle out, by putting people back to work and giving workers better wages so more people can participate in the economy.  But part of doing that is to show investors and business people that the government can get its fiscal house in order.

Outside of the broader issue of a better overall economic policy, there are three areas policy makers can address if they want to reduce the deficit: discretionary spending, mandatory spending and revenue.  The first was cut severely by the Budget Control Act of 2011—the law passed the last time we came up to the brink of the debt ceiling.  Roughly $900 billion were cut from the then ten year projections of what was to be spent, and then discretionary spending was cut even further as a result of sequestration which kicked in March of this year.  Over ten years, sequestration will cut another $1.2 trillion out of discretionary spending.  This has resulted in deep cuts to defense, transportation, education, housing and many other programs.

But the discretionary budget is only about one-third of the total budget.  The rest is in mandatory spending—entitlements—programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Unemployment Insurance.  These programs are automatically funded, do not require yearly action by Congress like discretionary spending, and are very difficult to cut because they are very popular with the public.

And this is the problem.  On this second issue, in addition to killing Obamacare, what the Republicans want are severe cuts in entitlements.  Republicans insist on balancing the budget in ten years and you don’t get there without huge cuts in these mandatory-spending levels.

Which brings us to revenue.  The Republicans refuse to offer one penny of increased revenue to help deal with the deficit.  This despite the fact that under President George W. Bush, taxes were cut by trillions of dollars and then under President Obama over 90 percent of those tax cuts were made permanent.  Republicans look at the 10 percent of those tax cuts that were eliminated at the start of this year (taxes on people’s incomes over $450,000) and say we are done raising taxes.

It would be tough, but Democrats could agree to reductions in entitlement spending.  President Obama put such cuts in his budget this year.  But under no circumstance can Democrats agree to cutting entitlements without getting at least some increase in revenue.

So this is why we are here.  Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling or open back up the government unless Democrats agree to either gut Obamacare or cut entitlements without raising revenue, and many Republicans prefer both.  Democrats will never agree to either of these demands.

And here is where the Republicans fracture into chaos.  Some say, we will fight to the death.  If Democrats won’t agree to these demands then go ahead and default and let the government stay shut down.  Other Republicans say they will take one or the other—kill or at least delay Obamacare, or make huge spending cuts without any new revenue.  Still others say, most infamously Congressman Marlin Stutzmen from Indiana, “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”  That brings them to that list of a dozen or so other conservative priorities—gutting the EPA, the Keystone pipeline, etc.

At this point, the Republicans don’t know want they want.  But while they try to figure it out people are suffering from this shut down, and what the Republicans wanted in the first place—the repeal of Obamacare and deep cuts to entitlements with no new revenue—were never, ever going to happen.